Monday, November 29, 2004

Nearly a Month Later, Ohio Fight Goes On

Nov 29, 6:19 PM EST

Nearly a Month Later, Ohio Fight Goes On

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Nearly a month after John Kerry conceded Ohio to President Bush, complaints and challenges about the balloting are mounting as activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson demand closer scrutiny to ensure the votes are being counted on the up-and-up.

Jackson has been holding rallies in Ohio in recent days to draw attention to the vote, and another critic plans to ask the state Supreme Court this week to decide the validity of the election.

Ohio essentially decided the outcome of the presidential race, with Kerry giving up after unofficial results showed Bush with a 136,000-vote lead in the state.

Since then, there have been demands for a recount and complaints about uncounted punch-card votes, disqualified provisional ballots and a ballot-machine error that gave hundreds of extra votes to Bush.

Jackson said too many questions have been raised to let the vote stand without closer examination.

"We can live with winning and losing. We cannot live with fraud and stealing," Jackson said Sunday at Mount Hermon Baptist Church.

An attorney for a political advocacy group on Wednesday plans to file a "contest of election." The request requires a single Supreme Court justice to either let the election stand, declare another winner or throw the whole thing out. The loser can appeal to the full seven-member court, which is dominated by Republicans 5-2.

Jackson said he agreed with the court filing planned by lawyer Cliff Arnebeck, who has represented the Boston-based Alliance for Democracy in other cases.

"The integrity of our election process is on trial," Jackson said Monday in Cincinnati.

Elections officials concede some mistakes were made but no more than most elections.

"There are no signs of widespread irregularities," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Blackwell, a Republican, has until Dec. 6 to certify the vote. The Green and Libertarian parties are raising money to pay for a recount that would be held once the results are certified.

Other critics have seized on an error in an electronic voting system that gave Bush 3,893 extra votes in a suburban Columbus precinct where only 638 people voted. The extra votes are part of the current unofficial tally, but they will not be included in the official count that will be certified by the secretary of state.

Some groups also have complained about thousands of punch-card ballots that were not counted because officials in the 68 counties that use them could not determine a vote for president. Votes for other offices on the cards were counted.

Jackson said Blackwell, who along with other statewide GOP leaders was a co-chairman of Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio, should step down from overseeing the election process.

"You can't be chairman of the Bush campaign and then be the chief umpire in the seventh game of the World Series," Jackson said.

Blackwell's office responded by saying the state has a "bipartisan and transparent system that provides valuable checks and balances."

"The problem seems to be that Rev. Jackson's candidate didn't win," said Carlo LoParo, a Blackwell spokesman.